“I never thought I’d come to America”: Violence drives Ecuadorians to the border

Maria says she reached the border at the end of December. She currently lives at a relative’s house in New York with her 2-year-old son and 16-year-old eldest daughter. When he could no longer withstand the gang’s extortion he fled Ecuador. He owned a stationery shop and earned a living. “If you don’t pay, they threaten to kill your children,” he explains.

It was not until he saw himself at the border that the thought of leaving the country came to his mind. He never thought of leaving his country. “I told myself I would never go to the United States, I saw there were a lot of immigrants and life was hard. That was my concept,” he says. However, the situation became complicated. He feared for his daughter’s safety. “I think they started chasing us because we didn’t give them the amount they asked for.” And he decided to go.

2023, Ecuador’s “most violent year in history”.

According to an assessment by Professor Fernando Carrión of the Faculty of Latin American Social Sciences, on December 31, Ecuador ended “the most violent year in its history”. The Associated Press. Police recorded nearly 7,600 violent deaths in 2023, while the number was 4,426 in 2022. The wave of violence has caused the murder rate in the country to skyrocket. In 2023, more than 40 violent deaths per 100,000 inhabitants were recorded – according to data collected by the international agency – in 2022 this parameter was 26, data that is a far cry from the five murders per 100,000 people recorded in 2017 .

Many people crying over a corpse on the streets of Ecuador

Credit, Dolores Ochoa/AP

“Above all, there are problems with drug trafficking. It is beginning to expand more,” says Christian Puma Ninacurri, professor of Hispanic studies. college bowdoin (Maine), specializing in analyzing the development of the Ecuadorian diaspora in New York. He explains that, in his field work, when conducting interviews with newcomers, he has encountered stories like Maria’s. Extortionists, known as “vaccinators”, threatened to harm the family if they did not receive the requested money. He further added, “This has been a consistency that I have seen in this last period.”

The wave of violence that ravaged the country also affected the election period. murder of candidate Fernando Villavicencio At a campaign event in Quito, he placed Ecuador at the center of international media attention.

The country is back in the news after a group of armed men barged into a television channel and held some employees to the floor during a live broadcast. In view of the security crisis that has reemerged in recent weeks, this Monday President Daniel Ngoboa ordered a state of emergency Night curfew was imposed after the country’s most dangerous criminal ‘Fito’ escaped from jail.

Muzaffar Chishti, director of the New York office, says violence has become a “driver” for leaving the country. Migration Policy Institute. With this diagnosis, he also considers that the economic consequences of the pandemic should be taken into account as one of the reasons that, according to published data, Ecuadorians are the second largest group of migrants crossing the Darien jungle, after Venezuelans. Kept as the largest nationality. Panamanian officials.

Financial reforms, due to “rising world oil prices”, “did not translate into better living conditions for millions of low-income people” in this oil-producing country, he explains. Migration Policy Institute in an analysis About Ecuador Migration, And the crisis after the pandemic became even worse.

The number of Ecuadorians crossing Darien is increasing rapidly

“This is a phenomenon that I explored in 2021 and I tried to attribute it to the failure that the government had at that time (in managing the pandemic). Ecuador was one of the countries that had a major problem of mismanagement of the pandemic. “Before, people used to die on the streets,” Orozco says of the increase in Ecuadorian migration to the United States.

The number of Ecuadorians crossing the Darien jungle has increased rapidly in recent years. While pre-pandemic data confirmed a few dozen people crossing from Ecuador – 31 crossed in 2019 –, the figure rose to 330 in 2021. However, this number skyrocketed in 2022, with 29,356 Ecuadorians. According to Panamanian government records, 54,125 were already registered in 2023.

The picture painted by the data in the United States is very similar customs and Border Protection (CBP): In fiscal year 2018, 1,613 encounters of Ecuadorians were recorded at the border; In 2019, 13,198 were counted; in 2021, 97,074; And 24,936 in 2022. In 2023, the number reached a previously unknown record, with 117,487 arrests from the Andean country.

An Ecuadorian family on the border

Credit, Ross D. Franklin/AP

Orozco has identified two waves of Ecuadorian emigration to the United States. In 2021 it was driven by the economic consequences of the spread of the virus, and in 2023 by violence. In fact, Puma Ninakuri points out that there are people who, facing an economic crisis, stayed in their country in the hope of regaining the stability it had before the virus spread. These people took an economic gamble and reopened their businesses, but in the end, they had to leave due to insecurity. “I work with people who have migrated, especially from Ambato to New York, and they tell me that there are small towns that are practically empty,” explains the professor. College Bowdoin.

More than half (58%) of people arriving at the border from Ecuador three years ago were adults traveling alone, while 37% declared they were a family unit. This trend has reversed in 2023. More family units (55%) were registered by border guards than individuals entering alone (42%). For Orozco, violence and insecurity in the country is one of the reasons that has led to this change in trend.

migration specialist Inter-American Dialogue He believes this situation “reflects” “where immigrants come from.” “He is not being allowed to go alone (one person) and send money. He will have to go with his entire family,” he added. According to analysis by Puma Ninakuri, recruitment among young people by these criminal gangs is another factor that contributes to making migration more familiar. Parents do not want their children to be recruited by organizations associated with drug trafficking.

What are your options for regularizing your situation?

Unlike other nationalities such as Venezuelans, Honduras, Haitians, Salvadorans and Nicaraguans, Ecuadorians cannot currently use it. temporary protected status (TPS). This program not only protects successful immigrants from deportation, but also entitles them to obtain a work permit.

Chishti believes that those Ecuadorians “who do not meet the asylum criteria” will have difficulty regularizing their status in the country. “The remaining legal avenues are difficult,” he explains. Still, he says people who base their requests on “fleeing violence” have a greater chance of receiving asylum.

Along the same lines, Orozco agrees, pointing out that “the situation is different” for people arriving this year compared to the previous wave. “The asylum request is made on the grounds of facing threats from organized crime, which is manifesting itself primarily in Ecuador. That’s the relief they have now, whether they’ll be able to get it depends on the Cortes, but it’s complicated,” he says.

Attack on a TV channel, kidnapping and “absolute fear”: this was the first day of the state of emergency in Ecuador

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